I am not an economist, so I can’t say for sure whether the US Economy is in a recession. I do, however, watch television and read the newspaper, talk to friends and clients, and generally live in the real world — so I see that the economy is struggling and people are facing tough times. If nothing else, the boom times are over (for now) and we are in the midst of a pretty significant market correction.
As I understand it, businesses are suffering because the credit markets are frozen, making it near impossible to secure cash for basic needs, let alone to consider push new products or opportunities. Meanwhile, anxious consumers, not sure where their next paycheck might come from or how much less their investments will be worth by the end of the day, simply aren’t buying anything right now. Non-profit organizations are suffering because corporations don’t have as much money to give away, and those who do still have money aren’t interested in giving what limited funds they have available to support a good cause (as opposed to holding on to it, with the expectation that more tough times are ahead). And, as the end of the year approaches and the giving season gets into full swing, nobody expects individual donations to charitable groups to be as large as they have been in the recent past either (if they happen at all).
It should come as no surprise to anyone that as organizations – both corporate and non-profit — cut back in anticipation of even tougher times, one of the first things to go is the marketing budget. This belt-tightening makes sense on one level — promoting your brand to an audience who isn’t paying attention, or trying to sell a product or service to an audience that has no available funds, is hard to justify. At the same time, people can’t stop buying stuff completely and never fully lose their desire to show support for the causes they care about most, even when the money in their bank account begins to run short. What changes is how they shop, who they give to, and what their priorities are overall. In short, everything changes, but nothing goes away.
I believe there is an opportunity for businesses and non-profits to use this downturn in the economy to do more than just save money. A slowdown invites a refocusing of your efforts, an opportunity to review how you promote your work generally, and specifically what different strategies and tactics can be employed, to gain efficiency or increase your impact. That’s right, its time to consider a “marketing correction” in the midst of this market correction: a top to bottom review of how money is spent on marketing and promotion and how time and energy are applied when reaching out and engaging an audience.
In coming posts, I will try to identify some of the key areas where a different focus in terms of marketing or promotion by an organization can result not only in a short-term gains (actually being able to raise money or sell products, depending on what your goal is), but also a longer-term shift in the way groups market as a whole. For example, companies are starting to cut back on advertising, or shift their spend to PR to maximize their limited budget. It would be nice if they realized when their marketing budget is restored that wasting money on ineffective advertising doesn’t make any more sense in good times than it does in bad. Or, consider when you are building community online, whether its through a social network or by amassing a large email list — the reasons why people join include wanting to be a part of a group that shares their interests, or seeing an opportunity to have a greater impact working together as opposed to on their own. The people who join your list or your group are not looking for how they can help bolster your organizational profile or meet your bottom line, so groups need to find a way to have a measurable impact on an issue or offer something of value to their audience, or people will simply tune out.
These are tough and confusing times. Everyone seems to have questions, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I know that what we are doing right now, as marketers and strategists, online and offline, simply isn’t working as well as it should. So I am interested to figure out what needs to be different, and I think this is the time to go explore.